It might seem unusual, at first: British folk/pop auteur Sean O’Hagan padding Here Come The Rattling Trees—his latest outing as bandleader of the High Llamas—with several breezy musical snippets that work as either introductions or codas to delicate, fully realized songs. But in fact, the project first coalesced as a narrative the singer scripted about his South London neighborhood of Peckham, where a local working-class recreation center was being threatened by snooty gentrification. But it quickly morphed into a full-scale production that he staged at a Covent Garden theater—hence the inclusion of rising and descending motifs. O’Hagan will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new High Llamas feature.
O’Hagan: When I started out writing songs many years ago with Cathal Coughlan (Microdisney) we were both lucky enough not to have an assured grounding in any form. We were listening to all sorts back then: Scott Walker, Richard Thompson, Alex Chilton, Can, Steve Young, Tim Hardin. We drifted in and out of structure. Some songs were more transient and ambient. Some had elements of English and Irish folk, some were instrumental by virtue of a vocal sounding uncomfortable. As time went on, Microdisney became sort of successful, and the writing moved very much into safer accepted form. No surprises. It’s almost the same process that drives creativity from carefree under-fives and produces nervous 10-year-olds afraid of being judged.
Years on now, I feel as though I’m back there again. In and out of the High Llamas, I treasure the freedom to create music that answers your own instinctive question. Great music has been left to us in the classic form. I learnt from those songs, I see the virtues, but I’m now keen to avoid that process. I really value the open approach to writing. I suppose some would say it’s closer to arrangement than songwriting. This is fine by me. I tire of the charge of not attending to the ‘’proper’’ writing. Believe me, it crops up. Caught up in arrangement and not delivering a solid song! Its almost a form of critic catholicism.